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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

"I don't want to move to a city where the only cultural advantage is being able to make a right turn on a red light" ~ Annie Hall, 1977.

The city walls

The Appian Way

Our tour group spent a beautiful morning in the ancient city of Ostia Antica, at the mouth of the Tiber River and a few miles outside of Rome. (double click pictures to see them better) In ancient times, the shoreline moved seawards due to silting from the Middle Ages until the 19th century. Ostia is still lying next to the Tiber, but at a distance of some three kilometers from the beach. Ostia is Latin for "mouth", the mouth of the Tiber.

Ostia may not enjoy the media hype of Pompeii, but it is a marvelous view of what Roman life was like for both the rich and the poor.

I enjoyed it for the fact of its peace, tranquility and clean air after the hustle and bustle of a few days in Rome. Not a taxi cab in sight.

Ostia was said to have been founded by Ancus Marcius, the fourth king of Rome, in the 7th century BC, however the most ancient archaeological remains so far discovered are no older than the 4th century BC. Although Ostia was probably founded for the sole purpose of military defense — since hostile armies could reach Rome by water through the mouth of the Tiber River — in time the port became a very important commercial harbor. Many of the goods Rome received from its colonies and provinces passed through Ostia, including the essential grain supply to the city of Rome.

In 87 BC, the town was razed by Marius and again in 67 BC it was sacked by pirates. After this second attack, the town was re-built and provided with protective walls by the statesman and orator Marcus Tullius Cicero. The town was then further developed during the 1st century AD, mainly under the influence of Tiberius, who ordered the building of the first Forum. The town was also soon enriched by the construction of a new harbor on the northern mouths of the Tiber. The new harbor, not surprisingly called Portus from the Latin for "harbor," was excavated from the ground at the orders of the emperor Claudius; it has a hexagonal form, in order to reduce the erosive forces of the waves. The town was provided with all the services a town of the time could require; in particular, a famous lighthouse. Archaeologists also discovered public latrines with a revolving door, running water and seating for 20. The public latrine must have been the height of civility in its day and also a public meeting place. Ostia had a large theatre, public baths and a firefighting service. The mosaic floors of the baths are still visible near today's entrance to the town.

Ostia grew to 50,000 inhabitants in the 2nd century and in time focused its naval activities on Portus. With the end of the Roman Empire, Ostia fell slowly into decay, and was finally abandoned in the 9th century due to the fall of the Roman Empire in combination with repeated invasions, malaria and sackings by Arab pirates. The inhabitants moved to nearby Gregoriopolis. In the Middle Ages, bricks from buildings in Ostia were taken and used at several other locations. The Leaning Tower of Pisa was entirely built of material originally belonging to Ostia.

A "local sacking" was carried out by baroque architects, who used the remains as a sort of marble store for the palazzos they were building in Rome. Soon after, foreign explorers came in search of ancient statues and objects.

The Papacy started organizing its own investigations with Pope Pius VII and the research still continues today. It has been estimated that two thirds of the ancient town have currently been found.

Ostia was rejuvenated during the fascist era and renamed Lido di Ostia, or Ostia Lido, or Lido di Roma, lido meaning "beach" in Italian. Ostia became the beach resort of Rome, and was connected by a railway before the construction of the airport. The town was re-organized in a pure so-called "fascist architecture," which recalls some colonial, Mediterranean and rationalist styles. During the Fascist period many of the structures of Ancient Ostia were renovated or in some cases reconstructed, however, the fascist renewal was not long enjoyed, due to the imminence of World War II, which arrived when part of the works were still in progress.

Today, tours walk through the city's ruins, along the Appian Way, and think of what might have been.

(Information complied from Wikipedia and other sources)

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